When Lindsay Whalen fell in love with basketball growing up in Hutchinson, she was excited to put Minnesota on the map. She never imagined, however, where that would lead her.
Wallen represented an entire country in the Naismith Hall of Fame on Saturday night, humbly accepting her place among the game’s all-time greats. She did it her way.
It’s Minnesota. It’s gopher. She is a WNBA legend. It is now the Hall of Famer.
Wallen’s speech had the crowd chuckle from start to finish, including presenters Charles Barkley and Dawn Staley.
“I’ve seen previous shows before and everyone was standing up,” Wahl said with a smile after walking to the stage. “Thank you for sitting here with me today. It’s a perfect moment.”
During her time on stage, Whalen thanked her parents, husband, former coaches, teammates, and also takeaways for getting her to her first basketball camp outside her hometown.
“I was in tears, I didn’t want to get out of the car,” Wallen said on Saturday. “We paid for camp, so I was going to camp. However, I noticed we were past Burger King, so negotiations began.”
Wallen, 40, joined fellow great Gopher teammate Lou Hudson in his appointment on Saturday. Hudson, who was honored posthumously, was represented by his daughter on stage.
The success of Whalen who led the Gophers to the Final Four in 2004, led the Minnesota Lynx to four WNBA titles and retired as the league’s winning lead, has made her a special place among the state’s sports icons.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about the impact,” Wallen told The Star Tribune recently. “I’ve always wanted to represent the country in the right way, in a positive way.”
She was the gopher’s all-time top scorer when she finished her college career. Fittingly, Whalen won her last WNBA Championship at Barn in 2017 before taking her collegiate position.
A legacy already solidified before Saturday, Whalen has inspired a generation of young stars who have followed the journey that led to her honor at Springfield, Mass.
Barkley, an NBA legend and famous TNT analyst, was Whalen’s first female favorite, but was shocked that she never grew to a “6-2, 6-3 power forward with a big jump and rebounding machine.”
“It stopped growing at 5-8,” Wallen told Barkley on Saturday. “The plans have changed a bit. But thank you for being such an inspiration to a young girl in Hutchinson, Minnesota.”
Staley paved a path for Whalen to follow as a prominent former college guard and become a successful NCAA trained professional guard. Staley’s national title spurs with South Carolina Whalen to turn the Gophers into a contender, especially watching the Gamecocks defeat UConn in a championship match at Target Center this year.
“I am honored that you are here with me today,” Wall said to Staley. “I will do everything in my power to continue in the footsteps of playing a point guard in the WNBA straight to a head coach.”
Whalen’s jersey number 13 was retired by the Gophers in 2005. Minnesota Lynx and Connecticut Sun did the same in 2019, a year after they decided to move into coaching.
Among the coaches Whalen has given credit for include: Pam Borton (Gophers), Geno Auriemma (Team USA), and Cheryl Reeve (Lynx), who came from Team USA’s World Cup camp in Las Vegas.
The sports career of Whalen, the eldest of five children of Neil and Kathy, began playing youth hockey for her father. But her journey quickly carried over to basketball – eventually Gophers glory, Olympic gold medals, and a WNBA dynasty with Lynx.
“I had a chip on my shoulder the whole time because people thought it couldn’t be done in Minnesota,” Wahl said earlier. “I loved to prove people wrong and that’s what I played with.”
Trying to revive the Gophers she once got into a pair, winning from a national title may be her toughest challenge yet.
She’s still striving for her first NCAA Championship as a coach, but signed on for the best recruiting class in program history last year. It’s a class full of talent in Minnesota.
She expects them to be ready for training next week, and has asked her players to finish Saturday’s speech.
“I have a really good set,” Wallen said. “I’m excited to be in the trenches with them and see what we can benefit from.”
The Star Tribune did not travel to attend this event. This article was written using television broadcasts and video interviews before and/or after the event.